Is underachieving teen's problem a video addiction?

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  December 24, 2009 06:00 AM

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Hi, my 15-year-old son is a very bright underachiever.  He's a sophomore and taking several honors classes (Algebra 2, Geometry and Chemistry).  He did well last year, A's, B's and 1-2 C's, and continued like this with his last report card. We just got his progress report and he got an F in English (he got an A last semester), a D in Algebra 2 and the rest were C's and B's.  The teachers comments were "Does not work to potential, Effort has deteriorated, and Inconsistent effort."  He's a great kid, does not get in trouble, we know his friends and their families well and like him do not get into trouble and generally do well in school.  The only issue we have is his lack of motivation and we don't know what to do.  We are afraid this problem is going to affect his future and his chances to get into college and pursue the career he's chosen (he wants to be a commercial pilot).  We've punished him when he hasn't met expectations, but I don't think it really works.  When we do his behavior changes until the next report card, but eventually he starts slacking again.  The only thing he seems really interested in and passionate about is playing video games.  If there was a class on playing PS3 he would have an A+. 

What worries us even more is that his father and I were also bright but lacked motivation when we were teenagers and young adults.  We're afraid he's headed down the same road.  Life has been very difficult for us because of the choices we made, especially now with the economy the way it is.  Neither one of us finished college and at first we had good jobs and managed to move up to middle class, but now things keep getting worse.  Our incomes have gone down.  If we were just getting started now I believe things would be much harder.  How do we help him understand that his choices are going to have serious consequences in the next 2-3 years?  Should we try and transfer him to a vocational school so he'll at least have a trade when he graduates? 

By the way, we have an 11-year-old daughter who is just as bright but is very hard working.  She is honor roll student and we never have to motivate her, it's just who she is.  We've raised her the same way.  We know she'll do well because it's not how smart you are, it's how hard you willing to work.  Please help, we're getting desperate!                   
From: Diane, Chelsea

Hi Chelsea,
 
My big concern here is the video games. But let's put that aside for the moment.

Have you shared your full story with him as eloquently as you did for me?

You're right, punishing a teen for lack of performance doesn't work; he needs to be motivated from within. A reward for grades sometimes works; it doesn't have to be money as long as it's something a teen really wants, from car privileges to being excused from a chore for a week. But sometimes -- sometimes -- a heart-to-heart in which you share your own experiences and mistakes can make a difference. The trick is not to lecture. You can even cry, if it's genuine, but once it becomes a lecture,  he will tune out.

You can offer to try to get him all the help he wants; I'm thinking peer tutors if finances are an issue (and, by the way, peer tutors can be fabulous) but he has to want this.

What's I'm really thinking about is finding help for him to kick the video games.

These games are incredibly addictive and this has become a huge problem for many teens, sapping them of their interest in everything else, including eating. My reporting shows that some teens are more susceptible than others, especially those who are
depressed, shy, bored, bright, overwhelmed, or suffering from attention difficulties.

This article, by Cynthia Orzack, director of the Computer Addiction Study Center at McLean Hospital in Belmont, offers parents ways to attack the problem at home, most notably moving a computer out of teen's bedroom (yes, he won't exactly be happy; what else is new?) into a public space in the house, and setting limits on his computer time.

I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.
 



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5 comments so far...
  1. Throw the gaming system out.

    He can have a new one when he makes honor roll for a year...or never again.

    If you think the video games are a problem, remember that YOU are the parents and eliminate the problem.

    Posted by C December 24, 09 11:11 AM
  1. well, calling your child an "underachiever" may be a little harsh. sounds to me a there may be something else going on, in the home, school. Or it could simply be that your son is bored with school. blaming video games is a simplistic excuse. if his passion is video games, then maybe you should encourage him in learning how they're made... from a production standpoint or a programming standpoint, with the latter being very profitable... just a thought.

    it's YOUR job as a parent to find out what motivates YOUR child and encourage them to follow their dreams, nurture their strengths, and prepare them for independence. i was called "lazy" in my math and physics classes got average grades not because i was an "underachiever"... it was quite the opposite and now, as an adult, i have two masters in the sciences, physics and chemistry, and have a PhD.

    oh, and i love playing video games. ;)

    Posted by PhNobody December 25, 09 06:10 AM
  1. GET RID OF THE VIDEO GAMES

    Posted by kiki December 25, 09 09:46 PM
  1. Before you throw away all video games, I would sit down and have a talk with him and see if he would be interested in going to a tech school. I agree with PhNobody. Maybe video games will turn in to his passion and he would be interested in going to a tech school that offers a path in graphic design or something of the sort.
    When I was younger, I was more like your daughter. However, my passion was horses. I managed to talk my parents in to sending me to an agricultural high school where I took equine classes. As I got older, I realized there was no money in horses unless you already had money. So after one semester in college at a equine college, I switched to a new school and became a marketing major. Now I'm in a job that applies to none of the above!
    I guess my point is that video games are not the root of evil. Some people look down on tech schools and think they are only for "dumb" kids, but the variety in classes my just be what your son needs. And there is always time to change his path later in life. Good luck :-)

    Posted by momof2 December 28, 09 11:10 AM
  1. A tech school isn't going to get you hired by a gaming company-it will lead to a lovely job in a low paying industry though.

    Having a strong math and science background and getting a BS/MS in Computer Science with a focus on programming will get you a job in the gaming industry.

    Posted by c December 29, 09 10:55 PM
 
5 comments so far...
  1. Throw the gaming system out.

    He can have a new one when he makes honor roll for a year...or never again.

    If you think the video games are a problem, remember that YOU are the parents and eliminate the problem.

    Posted by C December 24, 09 11:11 AM
  1. well, calling your child an "underachiever" may be a little harsh. sounds to me a there may be something else going on, in the home, school. Or it could simply be that your son is bored with school. blaming video games is a simplistic excuse. if his passion is video games, then maybe you should encourage him in learning how they're made... from a production standpoint or a programming standpoint, with the latter being very profitable... just a thought.

    it's YOUR job as a parent to find out what motivates YOUR child and encourage them to follow their dreams, nurture their strengths, and prepare them for independence. i was called "lazy" in my math and physics classes got average grades not because i was an "underachiever"... it was quite the opposite and now, as an adult, i have two masters in the sciences, physics and chemistry, and have a PhD.

    oh, and i love playing video games. ;)

    Posted by PhNobody December 25, 09 06:10 AM
  1. GET RID OF THE VIDEO GAMES

    Posted by kiki December 25, 09 09:46 PM
  1. Before you throw away all video games, I would sit down and have a talk with him and see if he would be interested in going to a tech school. I agree with PhNobody. Maybe video games will turn in to his passion and he would be interested in going to a tech school that offers a path in graphic design or something of the sort.
    When I was younger, I was more like your daughter. However, my passion was horses. I managed to talk my parents in to sending me to an agricultural high school where I took equine classes. As I got older, I realized there was no money in horses unless you already had money. So after one semester in college at a equine college, I switched to a new school and became a marketing major. Now I'm in a job that applies to none of the above!
    I guess my point is that video games are not the root of evil. Some people look down on tech schools and think they are only for "dumb" kids, but the variety in classes my just be what your son needs. And there is always time to change his path later in life. Good luck :-)

    Posted by momof2 December 28, 09 11:10 AM
  1. A tech school isn't going to get you hired by a gaming company-it will lead to a lovely job in a low paying industry though.

    Having a strong math and science background and getting a BS/MS in Computer Science with a focus on programming will get you a job in the gaming industry.

    Posted by c December 29, 09 10:55 PM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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